Ed Sterling

AUSTIN – Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has filed a brief with the Texas Supreme Court defending the state’s medical malpractice reform law. Abbott filed his brief in a case involving the Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio. Plaintiff Emmalene Rankin sued two physicians and the Methodist Healthcare System, alleging that a surgical sponge was left in her body after an operation more than 11 years ago.

In 2003, the Texas Legislature passed a bill prohibiting medical malpractice suits filed more than 10 years after the alleged act of malpractice. Lawmakers passed the bill in response to a shortage of doctors and the increasing costs of medical malpractice insurance.

The brief explains that Texas sets limits on the time for lawsuits to be filed “because our legal system does not remedy injuries in perpetuity.” The time limit is fair to plaintiffs and to health care providers, the brief states.

Rankin, the plaintiff, argues that the statute violates Texas’ Open Courts provision in the state Constitution. That provision puts no limits on a person’s right to sue for redress. A trial court upheld the state’s limiting law, but the Fourth Court of Appeals reversed that decision and struck down the statute.

Insurer slapped for $310 million

Texas Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin ordered State Farm Insurance to refund $310 million to its Texas home insurance customers for overcharges. Geeslin said State Farm overcharged its customers for several years dating back to 2003. State Farm has fought state regulators for years, arguing that it owes nothing to its customers.

“The commissioner found State Farm Lloyds’ rates were excessive and is ordering State Farm Lloyds to pay refunds,” Geeslin said. State Farm can appeal the order, which would delay any repayments.

Texans may get Powerball game

The Texas Lottery Commission has taken steps to bring the Powerball lottery game to the state. Meeting in Houston, the commission voted to publish its intent in the Texas Register and solicit comments on the plan.

Powerball is available in many states, and its highest payout was $365 million. Commissioners said that adding Powerball to the Texas lottery’s offerings could add $35 million a year to the state’s school fund.

Comments on the proposed rule can be submitted to Pete Wassdorf, Assistant General Counsel, by mail at Texas Lottery Commission, P.O. Box 16630, Austin, Tx., 78761-6630; by fax at (512) 344-5189; by e-mail at ; or by visiting the Texas Lottery Web site at .

The commission will hold a public hearing and accept comments on this proposal at 1 p.m. Dec. 14, at 333 Guadalupe St., room 102, Tower III, Austin, Tx., 78701.

Few Latinos in school standards

At a meeting of the State Board of Education, state Rep. Norma Chavez, D-El Paso, objected to the lack of Hispanic historical figures required to be taught under a proposed social studies curriculum. Representing the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, Chavez told the board that the standards do not reflect Hispanic heritage in Texas.

While Latinos make up more than 40 percent of the state’s population, only 16 Hispanic historical figures are among the 160 mentioned in the required standards to be adopted for all grades. Earlier this year, the board considered a recommendation to remove the late farm labor leader Cesar Chavez from the required curriculum for fifth grade social studies. Chavez is still among the Hispanic figures required in the curriculum.

The board is set to vote on the new curriculum standards in January and give its final approval in March.

Mansion expansion


A proposal to add a two-story addition to the Governor’s Mansion has lost the support of the Heritage Society of Austin. The society has led efforts to rebuild the 153-year-old structure damaged in an arson fire in June 2008.

Dealey Herndon, project manager for the restoration, said the addition is needed because the mansion is too small and will lose space in the restoration to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The Heritage Society said altering the building by adding two stories would endanger the historical integrity of the only home in Austin on the list of National Historic Landmarks. The proposed addition would add 2,000 square feet of living space to the building.

“We would like not to see the exterior altered,” said Mandy Dealey, president of the society.